Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.…
There were those who one time asked the Saviour, "What shall we do that we might work the works of God?" To this He replied, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent." The issue, then, between God and men is narrowed down to this — "only believe."
I. THE MEANING OF THE TERM.
1. Sometimes the word refers merely to a creed, with no notion in it of spiritual experience at all (1 Timothy 4:1; Jude 1:3).
2. When the Bible speaks of faith, it sometimes means mere belief in facts (ver. 3). This kind of faith is necessary, in a certain sense, to salvation: "for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." The facts of the Saviour's life are to be received in that way. But this is not saving faith at all.
3. Again; faith sometimes means that conviction of the understanding which results from proofs laid before it, or arguments adduced. This is that which the woman wrought among her neighbours when she came back from the conversation with Jesus at Jacob's well. This also is the faith which Thomas had when asked to put his hand in the side of his Lord. But this is not saving faith; for our Lord immediately added, "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
4. And sometimes the Bible means the faith of miracles. This was a peculiar gift, bestowed by Christ upon His immediate followers. Now, whatever was the nature of this peculiar endowment, it is evident enough that there was no grace in it to save the soul; for the Saviour Himself declared (Matthew 7:22, 23).
5. Then, lastly, the Bible means saving faith; the true belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, through which we are justified, and by which we live.
II. THE NATURE OF THIS EXERCISE. The old writers used to say that faith was composed of three elements: a right apprehension, a cordial assent, and an unwavering trust. Let me seek to exhibit these in turn in a very familiar way.
1. To apprehend is really a physical act, and means to seize hold of. When applied to mental operation, it signifies to conceive clearly any given object, and hold it before the mind for examination and use. It does not always include a full comprehension. A drowning man may catch a rope that hangs near him, and be rescued by it, without knowing who threw it to him, or who will draw it in, or what vessel it trails from. He apprehends it, but he does not comprehend it. He sees it, but he does not see all with which it is connected. The two essential things for every man to apprehend, are his own need and Jesus Christ's fitness to supply it. There is the inward look, and then there is the outward look. I cannot help myself, and the Saviour can help me are the two thoughts that must lie buried deep in his soul. It matters little how these things are learned.
2. Then comes the second element of faith, already mentioned — namely, assent. This is a step in advance of the other. A simple illustration will make plain what is meant by it. An invalid is sometimes very unwilling to admit his danger, even when he has nothing to oppose to the reasoning of one who proves it. He feels his weakness, but he resorts to a thousand subterfuges to avoid yielding to the physician. His judgment is convinced, but his will is unbroken. He apprehends his danger, and knows the remedy; but he refuses to be helped. What he needs now is assent; and this requires humility and the renunciation of self-will. Faith includes this. It calls for a cheerful submission to God's requirements, the moment we apprehend them, no matter how humiliating the assertion of our ill-desert may be.
3. The third element of saving faith is trust. By this I mean reliance on the truth of what God said He would do; a quiet resting on His promises to accomplish all we need for salvation.
III. THE USE TO BE MADE OF THIS ANALYSIS comes next to view. Your experience hitherto has been something like this. You have seen your need; you have gone in prayer to Jesus confessing it. You said in your prayer, "O Lord, I am vile, I come to Thee; I plead Thy promise that Thou wilt not cast me out; I give myself away in an everlasting surrender; I leave my soul at the very foot of the Cross!" And then you rose from your knees, murmuring, "Oh, I am no better; I feel just the same as before!" You saw that you had made a failure. Now, where was the lack? Simply in the particular of trust. You would not take Jesus at His word. When you have given yourself to Christ, leave yourself there, and go about your work as a child in His household. When He has undertaken your salvation, rest assured He will accomplish it, without any of your anxiety, or any of your help. There remains enough for you to do, with no concern for this part of the labour. Let me illustrate this posture of mind as well as I can. A shipmaster was once out for three nights in a storm; close by the harbour, he yet dared not attempt to go in, and the sea was too rough for the pilot to come aboard. Afraid to trust the less experienced sailors, he himself stood firmly at the helm. Human endurance almost gave way before the unwonted strain. Worn with toil, beating about; worn yet more with anxiety for his crew and cargo; he was well-nigh relinquishing the wheel, and letting all go awreck, when he saw the little boat coming with the pilot. At once that hardy sailor sprang on the deck, and with scarcely a word took the hehn in his hand. The captain went immediately below, for food and for rest; and especially for comfort to the passengers, who were weary with apprehension. Plainly now his duty was in the cabin; the pilot would care for the ship. Where had his burden gone? The master's heart was as light as a schoolboy's; he felt no pressure. The pilot, too, seemed perfectly unconcerned; he had no distress. The great load of anxiety had gone for ever; fallen in some way or other between them. Now turn this figure. We are anxious to save our soul, and are beginning to feel more and more certain that we cannot save it. Then comes Jesus, and undertakes to save it for us. We see how willing He is; we know how able He is; there we leave it. We let Him do it. We rest on His promise to do it. We just put that work in His hands to do all alone; and we go about doing something else; self-improvement, comfort to others, doing good of every sort.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.